The purpose of the report is to evaluate the first two years of the Mana Whānau programme, to identify the approach, key components and delivery mechanisms, determine how well it is working, capture the outcomes and recommend improvements and next steps.
Mana Whānau is a six-month, intensive, in-home parenting support programme designed to keep tamariki who are on the edge of care, or have been removed by Oranga Tamariki, safely living within their own whānau and communities. The programme was developed by Lifewise in Auckland in 2017 following an initial pilot in 2015.
It was subsequently adopted by Wesley Community Action in Porirua in early 2019. Due to the successful outcomes for whānau, the programme was scaled up, with a second Lifewise team starting in October 2019.
The programme is intensive, whānau-led and is based on a theory of change which contends reducing toxic stressors can free up the mental bandwidth required for parents to care for their tamariki effectively and, where necessary, build new skills and capabilities. It is grounded in the latest neuroscientific research, developed in a New Zealand context and driven by a ‘whatever it takes’ and ‘what works’ approach.
In the two years to July 2020, a total of 44 whānau with 139 tamariki started the programme; 26 whānau in Auckland and 18 in Porirua, with 16 (37%) NZ European, 21 (48%) Māori, 12 (27%) Pasifika, 3 (7%) Asian and 3 from other ethnic backgrounds.
Thirty-nine of the 44 whānau (89%) retained or had their tamariki returned. In total, 130 tamariki (94%) are now living safely together with their parents.
Whānau in the programme, staff and stakeholders report:
• The care and protection issues which initiated the involvement of Mana Whānau for have been resolved.
• Toxic stressors have reduced significantly.
• Parenting capabilities have improved.
• Outcomes for tamariki (such as health, education and behaviour) have improved.
• Access to natural and community resources have strengthened, although some whānau still experience feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The programme highlights the impact of stressors on tamariki and whānau outcomes. Uplifting children to protect them from their parents and caregivers, particularly when the risk of imminent harm is low, fails to acknowledge or address the social determinants of harm and the key strategies which could prevent it. In fact, it appears to further compound the suffering of whānau, including tamariki, who are already bearing an overwhelming burden of stress and trauma.
The evidence shows there are more effective and compassionate pathways to safety and wellbeing for many of these tamariki and their whānau. The evidence from Mana Whānau shows that developing an intensive programme that focuses on reducing the social determinants of harm, in particular addressing the trauma of whānau, reducing the toxic weight of risk factors, increasing executive function and freeing up mental bandwidth may provide a better alternative to out-of-home care for both tamariki and their parents and, for at least some whānau, help to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
There are enormous personal, whānau, community and societal benefits in supporting tamariki to stay in the care of their families. Based on the outcomes to date, the evaluation finds, if implemented with fidelity to the principles, approach and key components, Mana Whānau provides a safe and successful alternative to foster care. It is recommended the programme is further rolled out and scaled up.
Report published December 2020.